10 Secrets About Personal Trainers

It’s that time of year to pretend to care about your body for a few weeks before you give up in despair and realize it’s your parents’ fault for not having better genes. SmartMoney has published another one of their “10 Things” articles, this time about the common workout hobo, or as they prefer to be called, “personal trainers.”

Some of the key things to keep in mind: with the explosion in personal trainers at gyms all over the country, it’s possible to end up with an “expert” who might not have as much formal training as you’d like. And some trainers can be more concerned with their own profits than with helping you. For instance, one former trainer with Ballys tells the magazine that he witnessed trainers intentionally over-exercising unfit clients to the point of collapse, in order to convince them that they were so out of shape that they needed to buy more training sessions. Some trainers will stick with only functional training—using balls, resistance tubes and bands, and balance equipmpent, for example—and not teach you how to use weight machines for fear of losing clients who become too confident in the gym. If your goal is to get motivated, learn how to exercise, and move on, make that clear during your first interview and talk about setting a goal for when and how you want to learn to use the equipment.

One good way to save money on personal training is to negotiate a group rate:

Though health clubs don’t typically dangle the group option in front of you, most personal trainers will work something out if you ask. After all, it’s a win-win situation. For a group of three, for example, the average fee of $60 per hour is reduced by half for each client, while the trainer brings in about 50% more than he typically makes in an hour. And it could mean a better workout: “There’s a lot to benefit from group camaraderie, as long as you don’t need a trainer counting every rep you do,” says Richard Cotton, national director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine.

“10 Things Your Personal Trainer Won’t Tell You” [SmartMoney]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. davebg5 says:

    Some good tips in the article, but really, when it comes to finding a good trainer, nothing beats simple trial and error.

    My wife and I had to go through not only multiple trainers, but multiple gyms before we finally found someone who was a good fit for us.

    We would ask for recommendations from the people at the front desk, but most of the time they were restricted to recommending whichever trainer was due to get the next walk-in.

    There were also numerous occasions when we would try a trainer, not be satified and request someone else for the next time, only to get some static about it. The trainers in a gym can be very competitive and jealous when it comes to their clients…even if you’ve only been “their client” for a single session.

    This left quite a few noses out of joint at the gym, but you need to stand firm…it’s your body and your money.

  2. I’m always sort of surprised when I go to the gym, and there are like hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment there to use…and people are paying “trainers” to use ropes, balls, and tubes.

    It’s like “no, stay away from the stair machine”–use this stick instead.

  3. The Big O says:

    I’ve watched personal trainers for years while in the gym. Some are good. Most are okay. Some are terrible. I feel bad for a lot of the clients though. They have no idea what they’re paying for, or if they need it. Most people are better off just getting a membership and doing cardo, while researching how to do a few core weight lifting exercises.

    I agree with the sentiment that you should use trainers to “get motivated, learn how to exercise, and move on” but more importantly have realistic expectations.

    A lot of people come in on Jan 1st, expect to look ripped by summer, and when they haven’t lost 15 pounds by March just quit.

    If you’re just going to do that, I’d rather you not show up in the first place. That way I don’t have to wait for you to get off the cable flys.

  4. spinachdip says:

    @CreativeLinks: Depending on what your goal is, it often makes sense to use the sticks and balls instead of machines. one isn’t necessarily better than the other.

    And for novices, and even for intermediate gymgoers, having professional trainers makes sense, even for seemingly simple workouts. Your workout can do more harm than good if you’re picking up bad habits or worse, causing yourself joint pains because of poor form.

  5. hollerhither says:

    Yes, I second that. If you are out of shape and/or have an injury, you usually can’t or shouldn’t go right to the weight machines or high-impact equipment. And trainers can help with body positioning and give advice on interval training. I’ve been getting a lot out of my current trainer but I had some really lousy ones before her. Similar to experiences I’ve had with doctors, actually — you have to do some shopping around.

  6. maevro says:

    I am a certified personal trainer but I do not train anyone. My sister is the same way and so is her husband. My father was a professional power lifter so thats why we got into it. I never charge to help anyone who will but some people need a lot more help then others.

    Some people need more motivation then others while some will want to be on their own once they learn from a trainer.

    Trainers are a dime a dozen and thats what corrupts it. Yes, some people just train for a pay check while others do it for the love and there are people in between. A good trainer is motivated by passion to help and one who wants to make money fairly.

    A lot of gyms will take a cut of the trainer and that that can be good and bad at the same time. If I am a trainer and don’t have my own gym, then I would want that.

    My advice is to feel someone out. They will go above and beyond the actual session.

  7. mycroft2000 says:

    Good Lord, there’s absolutely nothing a “physical trainer” (or a gym, for that matter) can do for you that you can’t figure out for yourself at home with a little common sense. Walk around the block until you break a sweat; do a few dozen equipment-free crunches; lift a watermelon a bunch of times — voila, you’ve had a fine, free workout.

  8. The Big O says:

    @spinachdip: “Your workout can do more harm than good if you’re picking up bad habits or worse, causing yourself joint pains because of poor form.”

    Man, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve tried to tell people to use less weight or they’re going to hurt themselves.

    This kid last week was trying to curl 45 lbs in each are. He’s tossing around his upper body like he’s on a rodeo bull, all in the name of getting that weight up.

    I was like, “kid, you need to be using 20s or you’re going to hurt yourself.” I got the whatever look, and he went back to his 45s.

    Oh well, at least he’s still young and made of mostly rubber.

  9. The Big O says:

    @mycroft2000: They certainly can help when you’re putting up 300+ pounds on bench, or over 600+ on squat.

  10. semanticantics says:

    I’m glad my trainer passes this sniff test. We use all different equipment, have a great report, and he’s got great credentials. When I’ve had nutritional questions, he’s passed them along to a colleague more knowledgeable than himself. My goal is to be trainer free after the last of my paid sessions, but I feel it was a worthwhile investment, as I’ve actually become a regular at the gym as opposed to being able to carbon date the dust on my membership card.

  11. jamesdenver says:

    Big O is right. 75/25 cardio and basic simple weights. And you don’t even need a gym. Get out and walk, bike, and keep some 10 to 25lb weights at home and use while you watch TV. You can do this at home 3-4 times a week. Don’t overlife but do simple stuff like should raises, shrugs, lunges (legs) triceps (behind the head) and push ups (using the dumbells.) 75/25 cardio to weights will get you in shape and really ramp up your energy. A few weights and a incline/decline weight bench (which you can use for crunchs) will cost you under $100.

    Bill Phillips Bodyforlife.com site has some good weight training demos and animations which show the proper way to lift weights. I’ve been working out for six years and still check it out for different variations of muscle groups.

    It seems like people don’t see any middle ground between power walkers ramming 2lb pencil weights into the air versus power gym rats benching 3x their body weight.

    1. Walk and bike
    2. Lift moderate weights at home
    3. Eat good food in small proportions in small increments throughout the day.

    You can paypal me $50 for that intro session.

  12. gtrotter says:

    Good Post Spinachdip:

    Personal Training is just like every other profession. There are some who are good, a lot who are decent, and a few who are awful.

    The best advice in the article is about group training (unless you have severe limitations) and participating in a few trial sessions to see who you are compatible with.

    I’ve been a personal trainer since college and love the lifestyle. Training isn’t for everyone, but for some its the most efficient path to a goal.

  13. jamesdenver says:

    Also i don’t even like the word training. It implies you’re training FOR something ala Lance Armstrong for the big race – then afterwords you’re done.

    To stay healthy it needs to be a part of your LIFE – not just a three month cram session. Incorporating good eating, exercise time, and 2-3 days a week at the gym or with weights in the basement will produce better LONG TERM results then a New Year’s resolution will.

    Like the above poster said it wears off fast when you overdo it.

  14. Underpants Gnome says:

    Another option is to look in to the group fitness classes at your gym. The one I go to(Lifetime Fitness, great gym by the way) offers small group training classes with one trainer and 8-12 people 3-5 times a week. At about $15 a session it was much cheaper than a 1-on-1 trainer and still gave an excellent workout.

    There’s also the free classes which are a little less intense, but good for those of us who don’t want to pay extra for the smaller group and more personalized training.

  15. Joafu says:

    Better than getting a personal trainer is getting a group of friends that like similar activities as you. For example, by buddies and I all bought season passes at a skiing resort, so we’ll do that a few times a week, in the summer we go biking; if one of us doesn’t feel like going on a particular day, the other two put the positive peer pressure on high until they’re guilted into it. It helps because you’re with people you’re comfortable with, plus these will be the same people you’ll see outside of working out and motivating you to put that extra chicken wing down.

  16. The Big O says:

    Bodyforlife.com is a great resource.

    They attack fitness with the mentality that it’s part of a complete and healthy life, and it’s more than just working out. It’s eating right. Resting right. And enjoying life without injury, sickness, or pain well into your golden years.

    The earlier you start the better you’ll be at the end.

  17. mir777 says:

    Judge not folks…especially those with specific joint issues. I love my trainer and truly believe he is keeping me both motivated and injury-free. I am a recovering fattie born with crappy knees, so I do need the training. He also understands, or seems to, that in six weeks I will be on my way; I notice him letting me set the weights and such, rather than him doing it, so I am not completely clueless. He also writes stuff down for me, which is nice.

  18. LoLoAGoGo says:

    @The Big O: As an athletic coach, I totally agree that most people you see in the gym exercising are doing it completely wrong, either using too high a weight or doing the exercise incorrectly. I hate watching people utterly destroy their muscles, thinking they are getting a good work out by pushing through “the burn”. For people unfamiliar with working out, sometimes you do need a training session or two on how to properly use the equipment and pace yourself appropriately.

  19. Queensian says:

    One thing that the Smart Money article didn’t address is personal trainers who use their “knowledge” as an in for chatting up and touching women in the gym they don’t even know. I don’t have exhaustive know-how in the area of weight training, but I’ve had poses “corrected” by more than one male trainer into some of the most uncomfortable positions ever.

  20. deadlizard says:

    Trainers are a waste of time. There are dozens of know-it-alls at
    the gym ready to tell you how to do any workout if you just ask.
    Specially if you’re a cute girl.

  21. trujunglist says:

    Why would you get a personal trainer? They know about as much about training as anyone else at the gym. All you have to do is read the directions on the machine. If you’re somehow unable to follow the little drawing on the machine, watch someone else do it. If all else fails, ask someone. And, yeah, the internet has outstanding resources for free, such as expert village. That site teaches you how to do an insane amount of routines. Also, common sense helps.

  22. rdm24 says:

    I think some of the people who don’t think trainers are very useful haven’t ever worked out with one.

    Some things they can do for you:

    -Figure out if you are pushing yourself hard enough (or too hard)
    -Check on your form and prevent injury (this is WAY important!)
    -Modify your workout if you have injured yourself
    -Keep you going/prevent you from slacking off within and between workouts

    A “workout buddy” can do some of these things for you, but not all. Same with self-discipline.

    Maybe not everyone needs a trainer to meet their goals. But I believe that personal training really speed up the process a lot. It may be a waste of money, but never a waste of time!

  23. pigeonpenelope says:

    oh screw personal trainers. i just go to jazzercise a lot. that’s way more fun.

  24. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Commercial gym personal trainers (the good ones at least) are useful in that they can provide guidance in exercise technique, and routines, and nutrition. After a few months, a person should have enough general knowledge to stop using the trainer and venture off on their own. There are plenty of resources out there on the web and in books. So unless a person is truly lazy, there’s really little or no reason to use a personal trainer in the long term.

  25. rdm24 says:

    One point I’d encountered from the list is that if you’ve signed up for a bunch of sessions and your trainer splits halfway through, don’t let the gym just pass you off to another trainer without giving you at least a couple comped sessions. It’s not fair if you have to rebuild a relationship from scratch after paying so much for the first trainer.

  26. “Some trainers will stick with only functional training-using balls, resistance tubes and bands, and balance equipmpent, for example-and not teach you how to use weight machines for fear of losing clients who become too confident in the gym.”

    I’m shocked by this because it’s such an enormous liability. Every gym I’ve ever been to, before you’re ALLOWED to work out, you have to have an “orientation” session where you learn how to use all the machines properly!

  27. ouphie says:

    I’m fortunate enough to have a body builder as a boss. He is also part owner of the protein bar in one of the nicer gyms in town. So when we go workout at lunch, I don’t feel as bad for missing an hour and a half in the middle of the day. Thank goodness for the flex schedule.

  28. humphrmi says:

    Geez, the last time I joined a club, learning how to use the machines properly was part of the new joiners process. It wasn’t like a trainer session really, nobody getting in your face and motivating you and counting your reps for you, just a smart guy going through each machine and showing you how to position yourself, select proper starting weights, number of reps and sets, etc. Once you went through that, you did it on your own unless you hired your own trainer (which back then, 15 years ago, most people would have thought you were stupid). Of course this was also a machine-only club.

  29. Me. says:

    My trainer was worth every penny in that he gave me the confidence to get off my ass after 6 years of inactivity. He also offered the appropriate amount of guilt and accountability to keep me going.

    Sure, it isn’t for everyone, but if you’re clueless and uncomfortable in a gym, it might be worth it.

  30. sleepydumbdude says:

    I had a great personal trainer. He called me back and asked me to come in and meet him for a lunch. In an hour we chatted in a more social environment about what exactly I wanted and when I wanted to meet my target by (which was 8 months) He didn’t over charge me for time that I really didn’t need him, in fact there were a few times he seen me at the gym while he was working out and talked with me and helped out at no cost. I met my goal within 5 months. Almost wish I was still paying him.

  31. noel_lyons says:

    In every business, different prices are paid for different levels of services. Personal Training is no different.

    It’s up to everyone to pay due dilligence when taking on a personal trainer as in any business transaction. But there are far more reputable personal trainers than there are say journalists, lawyers etc because by its nature it attracts givers to the job.

    As for exercise machines – wake-up to 2008! Some health clubs are robbing you blind with machines that do more harm than good!

  32. jeblis says:

    Just go spend $30 on some good books.

    The Abs Diet and other books put out by men’s health magazine, I’ve found to be really good. If you need help learning to use machines etc. Just a few sessions should be enough.

  33. jeblis says:

    @Me.: You make a good point, sometimes the guilt/accountability/scheduling of having a trainer helps one to get into the gym.

    Workout partners can also help here.

  34. route52 says:

    If you don’t want to get a personal trainer or join a gym, join SparkPeople.com! It will devise workouts for you based on equipment you have in your home (even if that is “nothing,”) and there are videos to show you how to do the exercises. And you can track your food intake as well. And it’s free!

  35. Opeth says:

    As a fairly high-end personal trainer of five years, I basically train two types of people: those who needs someone to talk to, and those who consider themselves too busy to learn about exercise. In one sense, I know I’m a babysitter, but the people I train would rather pay me a nice chunk of change three times a week than to sit down, read and try to comprehend Zatsiorsky’s “Science and Practice of Strength Training”, or some similar science-based training manual.

    I also had a good laugh at the dietician in the article who disparaged the nutritional knowledge of trainers. Yes, many trainers know crap all about nutrition, but many of us are quite well versed, and have the open mind to move past the “fat-bad, carbs-good” philosophy these institutionally indoctrinated hacks espouse. Trainers hate dieticians as much as dieticians hate trainers.